Home' Work Boat World : November 2015 Contents Where’s the Captain?
Cutting-edge developments affecting the work boat world, By ANDREW BAIRD
The Bow Wave
What would happen if the crew were removed from a ship and
replaced with a bunch of video cameras and a satellite
connection? It’s a question that’s been asked at more than a
few post-work drinking sessions and has been the subject of a
recent event held by the Nautical Institute.
Unsurprisingly, the military has been taking the lead with
unmanned vessels. A variety of systems have been developed for
harbour patrol, with the bombing of the USS ‘Cole’ in Aden often
being cited as an example where an unmanned patrol could have
discouraged the attackers.
Some have been bolt-on remote control units for the US Navy
11-metre RIBs whereas other mo re co mplex systems include the
“Protector” from Israeli firm Rafael, which includes provision for
remotely operated machine guns. An unmanned craft can provide
close inspection without putting crew in harm’s way at a fraction
of the cost of launching a helicopter and has endurance many
times that of the aircraft as well.
And so inevitably, the shipping industry is having a look at
what the potential savings are if crews are removed from a vessel.
It is perhaps worth clarifying the difference between unmanned
and autonomous. An unmanned vehicle is one that is remotely
controlled but still requires a human to make decisions for steering
or power, much like a toy car or a Predator drone, whereas
autonomous means that the vehicle’s steering and throttle,
amongst other systems, are controlled by a computer. An autopilot
on a manned vessel is technically an autonomous system in that
the operator tells the vessel to maintain a heading, o r follow a
plotted course, and the computer is then left to determine the
appropriate power, steering and trim to meet the given
instructions. It makes no difference to the autopilot if the
commands are entered on the bridge, from the Captain’s cabin or
from a desk on the other side of the planet.
If an autopilot can be supplied with course information via
satellite, and if an engine room can be monitored fro m a shore
based facility, what else needs to be considered for an unmanned
ship? Prepping a ship for pre-docking usually includes releasing
deck hatches and removing container restraint systems as well as
getting ropes and lines ready for coming alongside a quay,
departing a harbour and the jobs are reversed. Could these jobs be
done by shore based crews that are ferried out to the ship as it
makes its way in, much like a pilot already does? Companies would
probably want their own shore based crews to handle the vessels
from their own fleet, even if it is just to maintain a level of
accountability over who coils the lines so poorly or has failed to
correctly “batten down the hatches” prior to departure.
The first commercial use of unmanned vessels will undoubtedly
be in the large cargo market and it will be exciting to see how it
eventually is implemented.
Your own unmanned mini-sub
Quite a few jobs in the maritime world require people to suit
up and jump in the water to inspect something quite small.
Oftentimes this will occur in cold waters, necessitating a wetsuit,
or rough waters, w hich can make re-boarding the boat difficult.
Sea life too can be an issue, such as the Great Whites and other
sharks which this columnist has witnessed circling the tuna pens
off Port Lincoln.
Currently on Kickstarter.com where it has already raised more
than US$600,000 in pre-orders, the Trident remotely-operated-
submersible might be the tool that finds itself on more than a few
workboats. It’s a compact inspection vehicle, only 80cm by 40cm
by 20cm in size, and comes with a 25-metre tether (upgradeable to
100 metres). Rather than using lots of thrusters like a traditional
work ROV, the Trident has two stern thrusters and “flies” through
the water and then uses a single Z thruster for vertical movement.
The vehicle is powered by onboard batteries and a single charge is
good for three hours of use. Control is by a tablet and commands
are sent over WiFi to a buoy that is connected via tether to the
Trident. The tablet displays the view from the onboard HD camera
and a bank of LEDs provides illumination in most conditions.
The Trident comes from openROV, a group that has previously
run a very successful Kickstarter for an open source underwater
robot, and there are already plans for additional modules that will
The Trident underwater drone will retail for US$1,200. More
information can be found at www.openROV.com
Any comments, or perhaps you’ve come across something interesting?
Feel free to conta ct me at the. bow.wave@gmail. com
WORK BOAT WORLD November 2015
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